“NO STRAIGHT LINES” Album Release April 14th

No Straight Lines Album Cover (low res) copy

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted here.  My sincere apologies!  I actually created a really detailed post a while back with great visuals and links about how many pieces of equipment broke down during the making of “No Straight Lines,” my upcoming album.  But I somehow exited WordPress without saving and you know what happened.  If you see the humor in this you are surely my kind of person.

Regardless, my “long-awaited”new singer-songwriter album NO STRAIGHT LINES is coming out April 14th and now the fun part (for me, at least) starts.  The sharing.

I’ve pasted in below some of the early publicity about the album.  If you are inspired to click on the colored hyperlink above you can hear excerpts of all songs off the album.  For each song you will also find album credits, lyrics and session notes about either the writing or recording of each particular song.  Hope you enjoy!  And if you subscribe to my Mailing List you’ll get updates, bonus tracks and other stuff over time.  Salud!

Bill Gable: A Map of Life with No Straight Lines

Straight lines. They’re a man-made conceit – highways, railroads, the quickest distance between two points. But nature likes to meander, to take a slower course. And No Straight Lines is a path that suits musician and singer-songwriter Bill Gable. His new record is inspired by those destinations never quite reached.

“Every record is a journey,” Gable remarks. “I wanted to carry the listener with me. I often thought of these lines from a poem by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa: ‘To be great, be whole; exclude/Nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you. Be whole in everything. Put all you are/into the smallest thing you do. The whole moon gleams in every pool./It rides so high.’ Through attention to detail in the storytelling and production, in my own small way I tried to do that.”

Gable began writing No Straight Lines in 2004, a year after his second disc, This Perfect Day, was released. Much of it was composed in Morocco, Spain, and Portugal, in the hotel rooms where he lived, soaking in the countries, their culture and their music.

That travel resonates through the songs. The lyric of “I Threw Your Heart,” for example, burrows deep into the pained flamenco tradition, while on “I Was Born To Love You” Gable’s voice takes on the cracked patina of a flamenco singer, with cajon and footwork providing the rhythmic base.

“I read a lot of flamenco lyrics, a lot of Lorca, Pessoa and Sufi poets.” Gable recalls. “I let them seep in and this is how they came out. But in everything I tried to include influences from where the songs were composed.”

And that includes America, where the fragments of two songs came together to make “A Million Miles Away,” the easy warmth in Gable’s singing evoking ‘70s era Stevie Wonder. It’s a disc of shades and moods, pop music in the same way that Brazilian MPB is popular music – sophisticated and intelligent, with heart and depth. Its music dives into the soul, rather than gliding over the surface.

But that’s probably no surprise. Raised in the Midwest, Gable is a classically-trained pianist and cellist who played in symphony orchestras growing up before heading out to the West Coast with a literature degree in his pocket. He worked with jazz group the Yellowjackets on many albums, garnering three Grammy nominations, writing a number of compositions for them and other artists ranging from Chicago to the DeBarges.

In spite of that background on piano, the songs for No Straight Lines were all written on guitar.

“It’s more intimate,” Gable says. “It gives a more personal song.”

And the tracks of No Straight Lines are studies in emotion and life. The characters in Gable’s songs are people on the trail of certainty, but rarely finding it. “I realized I’ll be on the very verge of beginning/every second the rest of my life” he sings on the album’s title cut, a summation of the understanding that comes with age.

It’s a document of a journey that can never end, but he has some strong companions along the way. Along with Gable’s own voice, guitar, cello and Portuguese guitarra, Steve Rodby (Pat Metheny Group) and Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets, Bruce Hornsby) play bass, Larry Goldings (James Taylor, Norah Jones) contributes on piano, and Greg Ellis (Beck, Mickey Hart) adds percussion, along with several other guests, and the Eclipse Quartet delicately grace “Road Of Pain” and “End Of The Day” with strings. Not to mention a special appearance by Motown legend Leon Ware (I Want You) on background vocals.

Gable is a traveler with an open heart and open ears, and he pulls the listener along with him, conjuring up the sights and smells of Fes with the shadings of the oud or the ney flute, the crisp palmas of Granada, or the cumbus and clarinet of Istanbul.

Finding musicians to provide some of the more unusual instruments sometimes proved a challenge, even in cosmopolitan Los Angeles.

“I knew I wanted flamenco footwork on some of the songs,” Gable says, “but there wasn’t anyone here who really knew it. Finally a friend called me up and said ‘There’s this guy called Manuel Gutierrez who’s just arrived from Spain. He’s the real deal.’ The minute he pulled those little wingtip dance shoes out of that bowling bag I knew he was.”

For all the care in the details of the arrangements, Gable acknowledges that No Straight Lines is very lyric-driven, like all my albums.” They’re the picture and the music provides the frame. And powerful pictures they are, too, such as “Like a snake, my heart has split its skin/somewhere far away it blew” (“Came So Close To Loving You”) or “The truth was never true enough/and you were never you enough” (“Sustenance”).

It might have taken 12 years for the words and music to finally surface, but the wait is worthwhile. It’s easy to understand why Steely Dan’s Walter Becker called Bill Gable “a great songwriter [with a] marvelous ability to incorporate exotic musical elements and seemingly disparate influences.” Not going in a straight line makes for a much richer journey.

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Cozido

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All this talk about literature is making me hungry.

The above photo is of Portuguese cozido, a typical Portuguese stew.   It can be made from a range of vegetables and meats including pig’s ear, pig’s tail, blood sausage and other various “unmentionables.”  Ahhhh…

When I went to Lisbon to write, two friends I made there, Ana Bárbara Ramalho and Pedro Simoes Dias, separately both wanted me to do the very same two things (so I did them): go to a particular Japanese tea house they loved, and eat a genuine Portuguese cozido.  In its eclectic use of unmentionables, a cozido is not all that divorced from a “feijoada,” the national dish of Brazil in which I have seen pig’s tails.  I was later surprised to learn that the Portuguese actually also have their own various versions of feijoada, some made with white beans.  Nao posso acreditar!  By the way, my Brazilian Portuguese (not that it’s all that great any more) was utterly useless in Lisbon.

It rained a lot of the time I was in Lisbon, perfect cozido weather.  I stayed in my room a lot, working on “NO STRAIGHT LINES.”  I wrote most of the lyric for a song called “Tale Of My Life” that didn’t make it on the album (but which I’ll release separately next year).  Over the process of making the record I wrote three entirely different sets of lyrics for the song that became “Road Of Pain,” one of them in my little room in the 2-star Albergaria Senhora Do Monte, situated on the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills.  Here was the view, without the rain.  The good life.

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Speaking of feijoada, the guitar part in “Road Of Pain” was very Brazilian-influenced, a holdover from my past.  I was expecting to hear lots of Brazilian and maybe some Angolan or Mozambican live music in Lisbon, one of the principle reasons I was exploring possibly relocating there during that trip.  Although Brazilian music is nowadays ubiquitous worldwide (though I spent a lovely evening listening to two guys playing bossa novas out of the Real Book in a tiny restaurant on Santorini all the way back in 1979) I either didn’t know where to look or Lisbon wasn’t a great international music town — disappointing given how musically rich Portugal’s former colonies were and are.  (And speaking of the “Real Book,” a song I wrote with Jimmy Haslip for the Yellowjackets years ago called “Sonja’s Sanfona” is included in Chuck Sher’s classic “New Real Book.”  I wrote the opening of that song in a hotel lobby in Belo Horizonte (speaking of Brazil) in 1984 waiting for Toninho Horta to pick me up to stay at his house.)

But I did hear some wonderful fado in Lisboa though, in the back streets of the Alfama and once in a jam-packed club in the Barrio Alto where the players didn’t start playing until 2:30 am!  Lisbon is most definitely a late night city.

A couple of the currrent era fadistas I quite like are Mafalda Arnauth, especially her “Encantamento” album, and Ana Moura.  (For me Amalia Rodriguez is too much an acquired taste from another era, or I’d recommend her initially as well.  Fado can be a bit like crawling through fudge for all its sentimentality, though this from someone who admittedly speaks limited Portuguese.)  Here’s one of the many beautiful songs off of “Encantamento” called “As Fontes.”

When I got back I wanted to incorporate some kinds of Portuguese influences on “No Straight Lines” beyond the mere fact of having been inspired so deeply by Fernando Pessoa (see my last post) and having spent time in Lisbon.  I early on wrote a couple of songs in a fado style for the album but never felt comfortable singing them and abandoned the idea.  I also really wanted to use Portuguese guitarra on the album, but had no ideas for players.  I called my good friend Don Cohen (who has written great introductory books on not only fado, but also tango and gypsy music), who told me to forget about trying to find anyone nearby or even in California who could play the instrument well (though I did find one guy who could do that), let alone play it outside a fado context.  I toyed with the idea of doing a long distance session with someone from Portugal but for various reasons it was too cumbersome.

So, for better or worse, I bought one and played it myself — not all that well, mind you, and surely not anything like a real fado player, but passably, I hope!  What an amazing instrument, very particular, and incredibly fun to play.

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Lisbon 2005

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In 2005 I traveled to Lisbon to continue writing songs for “NO STRAIGHT LINES.”  I was considering moving there at the time, where I thought I might try to set up a European legal practice representing high-end clients needing advice on U.S. intellectual property law.  I met with several of the largest Lisbon firms and explored various strategies with them, made a few friends I still keep in touch with today, and wound up doing a few Portuguese deals afterwards as result, but eventually decided against the move.  I was also hoping to meet up with Mafalda Arnauth on that trip to see if she might be interested in singing on the album, but she was out of the country on tour.

But all was not lost, of course, because I was there mostly for Fernando Pessoa.

pessoaFernando Pessoa

Tucked away in a corner of Praça do Comércio (back behind the red trolley car in the photo above), the main square of Lisbon that fronts the Tagus (i.e., Lisboa’s version of St. Marks’ Square in Venice), one can find the illustrious Restaurant Café Martinho da Arcada, Pessoa’s favorite haunt.  I of course needed to eat there at least once, though I chose not to try the juliana soup (see below), cod and fried eggs with cheese Pessoa usually ingested there.  I can’t remember what I had, but it was probably the grilled sardines or caldo verde, neither of which I could ever get enough of in Lisboa.

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I am in the process of re-reading one my favorite books of all time, Fernando Pessoa’s remarkable “The Book of Disquiet.”  Pessoa’s work has been swirling around my head ever since I first discovered him in the early 1980s.  I often read Pessoa while I was working on “No Straight Lines,” and plainly see his influence on certain lyrics on the album, especially I suppose “At The End Of The Day.”  But it has been now more than 10 years since I last read cover-to-cover this tour de force of prose.  I’m savoring it page by page.

For anyone who has never encountered the amazing work of Fernando Pessoa here is an exquisite short poem of his from 1933 found in “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (translated and edited by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown), Ecco Press, one of my very favorites:

To be great, be whole; exclude
Nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
The whole moon gleams in every pool.
It rides so high.

I owe my discovery of Pessoa to Dori Caymmi who, at a feijoada at John Pisano‘s years ago (more on that subject and John later), told me Pessoa was his favorite poet in the Portuguese language.  That led me to first read Pessoa’s poetry, and later everything of his I could ever get my hands on.  This being back in the 1980s, a fair amount of his work still wasn’t readily available in the U.S. in English translation then, including “The Book of Disquiet,” though that has changed.

It turned out that I had already by then heard a fair amount of Pessoa without knowing it.  It wasn’t until I traveled to Lisbon in 2005 that I discovered the album “Various Artists – A Música em Pessoa”

and realized I had been listening to these songs for years without knowing the lyrics came from Pessoa — songs by Jobim, Edu Lobo, Dori and his sister Nana Caymmi (my favorite female singer from Brasil, at least from the MPB era) and many others I knew so well.  Vicente Soto Sordera”s “Pessoa Flamenco” is another great offering, showing Pessoa’s influence extending into the flamenco realm.

I’ll write more about Pessoa later.  I’m far more interested in his literary output than others’ use of his work as lyrics, but it’s gratifying to see the world embracing this visionary poet and thinker.

Sense Memory

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This blog purports to be about the making of NO STRAIGHT LINES but so far I have mostly written about the places in which I spent time writing.  But this isn’t and shouldn’t be another travel site.  It’s about one singer-songwriter’s extended process of creating a “concept album.”  There is probably no good reason to do one any more, not in this commercial era.  It’s too much work to justify projects like this in a world where tracks get broken up into single tracks and shuffled.  So in part it’s a fond goodbye to an era.

Many years ago I was sitting in my apartment in Cambridge, Mass. in the middle of winter recording demos of my newest songs.  It was very late in the afternoon.  I had my headphones on, facing the windows, with the light filtering in.  Suddenly my head was intoxicated with the smell of my high school girlfriend’s skin and hair.  Right in the middle of recording some song that had nothing to do with her at all, I was transported a million miles away back to my her and to my adolescence almost ten years earlier.  The sensory experience was so intense, coming suddenly out of nowhere as it did, had I been standing it might have buckled my knees.  And here was what made it so amazingly potent: During the entire time she and I had been together I had never once noticed the smell of her skin or her hair.  It was only years later, on that otherwise unremarkable day, that I experienced it for the very first time and recognized immediately what it was.

So this post is about sense memory and about providence, about how good things eventually come to us — and about the writing of one particular song off my album — “A Million Miles Away” — as the song came together over a several year period in a most unusual and gratifying way.

It began in Frigiliana, during that period I’ve written about in which I spent many weeks in that rented 600-year old house writing material for this album.  One of the musical ideas I was working on at the time consisted of the arpeggiated introduction and opening chords for “A Million Miles Away,” though I had at that time no lyrical ideas whatsoever and no sense of song structure.  I just loved playing this little passage, over and over again, though I never was able to turn it into anything.  Eventually I would wind up setting it aside.

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One day I was having lunch at La Taberna de Sacristan, a small patio restaurant I liked in the square just below the cathedral. Daydreaming in the noonday sun, I found myself ruminating on how the pursuit of art and beauty can lead a person to a place beyond return where only those things will satisfy the soul, with no way back.  The idea wasn’t at all clearly formed, but it did make an impression on me as having some power of truth to it, some potential basis for a lyric.  When I went back through my journals later to see what I wrote that day, I found I had scrawled the words “a million miles away…in a world of books and ideas.”  Very little.  My journals are filled with these kinds of things, almost never leading anywhere.  I bet only 1 out every 100 ideas I’ve written down like this ever amount to anything, yet it’s all part of the process.

A couple of years later, back in LA, I was writing a song on the piano, one I never finished about misplaced patriotism.  The song was starting to take shape and I had a number of lyric ideas jotted down.  One afternoon I recalled that little abandoned guitar introduction I had been working on in Spain, and wondered if perhaps that arpeggiated section might work on this new song.  I began playing it over and over again on the piano, just as I had in Spain on the guitar, and found myself dreamily transported back to those days.  For some inexplicable reason, out of nowhere it suddenly occurred to me that the lyric idea I had in the square in Frigiliana that day about being “a million miles away” might work perfectly with the arpeggiated guitar part I had been working on up the hill in my house at the very same time, two fragments I had never previously connected.  It was as if those two ideas were inherently linked together, not only by temperament, but by time and place – and yet it took years for this recognition to dawn upon me, and in the most roundabout manner imaginable.  The song became something else, heading off in its own direction, but these are its curious origins.

After all these years I am still in awe of the writing process, forever humble in its presence.

If reflections like this interest anyone, this story was based upon one of the Session Notes on my website that can be accessed from my MUSIC page.  I have some kind of Session Note for every song I’ve ever released.